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NEAR MINT CONDITION

HERMANN COHEN - PIANIST & PRIEST

One page autographed letter signed to the Comte de Reiset as the French Ambassador to the Kingdom of Hanover, octavo, Hanover, January 2, 1866.  We include the folder from the Légation de France à Hanover where it was originally placed.

Cohen writes:

 Memory of a first visit to Monsieur le Comte de Reiset, with the sweet prospect of more frequent musical interviews in the future.

Hanover the 2nd January, 1866

F. Augustin Hermann
  Carmelite without shoes

 

Cohen (1820-1871) was without a doubt the most unusual pupil of Franz Liszt.  Born to one of the wealthiest Jewish families in Hamburg, the young Cohen began taking piano lessons at the age of four. His initial teacher whose name appears to be lost to time was a concert pianist, or traveling recitalist who would take the young Cohen to the cabaret and gambling as a youngster as a reward for his practice and concerts where he would be displayed as a wunderkind act.  The young pianist’s father became bankrupt in 1830 and his wife Rosalie thought if she took her young son to Paris to further his piano education, he could become a source of income.  An audience and audition with The Grand Duke of Mecklenberg-Strelitz who provided a letter of introduction to his ambassador in Paris.  The Cohens, Mother two sons and a daughter arrived in Paris on July 5th, 1834. Like Liszt, his future teacher, he was also denied admission to the Paris Conservatoire as he was not French.  The fourteen year old boy was brought to three pianist-composers for an audition, Chopin, Zimmermann and Liszt.  The Liszt audition came via the German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine and it occurred during a Salon at the home of Prince and Princess Belgiojoso.  Heine introduced the young boy to List, stating “That’s Liszt”, Liszt turned to Heine and said “And that’s Putzig”. (A nickname Czerny had given to Liszt when he was first brought to him.)  Cohen then performed and Liszt who was not really at a point where he wanted to take on additional pupils due to his touring schedule was so impressed he accepted him. The name “Putzig” was thought to be too Germanic, so it was shortened to “Puzzi” which stayed with him even into adulthood.  Very quickly the young Wunderkind became the favorite and Liszt took his prize show pony to his concerts and various salons where he met the crème de la crème of Parisian society.  Eventually, Puzzi became his factotum/secretary and if asked if he had a manager, Liszt would direct them to Puzzi.  One of Puzzi’s first affairs was with George Sand who wrote about him in her published letters, in one referring to them as “Rafael and Tebaldo”.  Liszt then began presenting his young show pony during his recitals, on his own and duets and arranging recitals for him. 

Then came the arrogance.  The young pianist was re-introduced to gambling at the salon of the Belgiojoso which became his pastime and the money he earned from performance, rather than going to help his mother and his sibilings, went to gambling and he lost in a big way.  His performances began to slip due to non practice and when Liszt began his affair with Countess Marie d’Agoult and moved to Geneva in 1835, Puzzi begged Liszt to allow him to come.  Liszt resisted at first, but then invited the young pianist to come three months later.  Meanwhile Liszt had been charged with staffing and running the new Geneva Conservatoire, he hired the 15 year old as a full professor of piano.  Rosalie Cohen and her son, leaving her daughter in a private school in Paris followed Puzzi to Geneva, where once again he burned his income in gambling, drinking and women.  He began touring Europe with Liszt as his assistant once again and performing, sometimes well when he was not drowning in gambling debt and practicing and sometimes not to Liszt’s shame. There was an event in Chamounix whilst inaugurating a new church organ where Liszt playing the “Dies Irae” section of the Mozart Requiem sparked some sort of religious feeling which was recorded by George Sand who was there at the time.  Liszt returned to Paris in 1837, Puzzi was still acting as his secretary.  In Leipzig in 1840 during a Liszt tour, Robert Schumann as critic praised his colleague, while his father in law Friedrich Weick repeated libelous slander to the press about Liszt and Cohen.  Liszt took Weick to court and won and for several years, he was taken off Clara Schumann’s party list. All during this time, Countess D’Agoult who never really wanted Puzzi to join them in Geneva and then in Paris she continued to write more and more sinister letter to Liszt while he was on tour about his acolyte which Liszt ignored at first and finally in 1841 agreed to let him go whilst accusing him of theft of Dresden box office receipts.  The family Cohen then toured Europe for the next five years while Puzzi performed recitals where it was advertised he was a student of Liszt.  Cohen moved back to Paris in 1846 on his own, living the Bohemian lifestyle with a friend and the courtesan cum circus performer, cum writer and novelist Celeste Mogadar.  Confused, depressed and deeply in debt he attempted suicide in front of Mogadar, when she left at the pistol, he shot a painting of her.  He then left Paris and whilst playing the organ at a church service in the provinces, he was “overwhelmed” with Christian feelings, which also occurred the following day.  On a recital tour in Ens Germany he experienced the same after a church service he attended and decided to be baptized a Catholic. Discussions with the Rattisbone brothers who were converted Jews and priests, he decided to become a priest and looked for an order willing to accept him, which occurred in 1848 after he played a final public recital to pay off his gambling debts. He then left for Rome on a trip to Rome to join the Discalced Carmelite order which had a vague attachment to Judaism. He was given his habit in 1849 and he was ordained in 1850 as Augustin Marie of the Blessed Sacrament, but known to all as Pére Hermann Augustin. Cohen took to his new role like a fish to water and overworked establishing Carmelite priories and convents in France.  He began writing to Liszt who was living and teaching in Weimar in 1852.  In 1862, Cohen was called to Rome to have an audience with the Pope and ran into Liszt who was there at the beginning of his own religious experience.  They had not seen each other in 21 years and greeted each other as old friends.  They both took turns playing a broken down piano in the friary and renewed their friendship.  The Pope sent Cohen to England to spread the Carmelite sect there, where he was important in re-establishing the Carmelites in England.  He also became noted for his speaking engagements to churches and the equivalent of outdoor stadium sized audiences.  Further, before his conversion he wrote a number of brilliant piano show pieces for his concerts as the recitalists of that period did.  He also wrote an unsuccessful opera.  For twenty years after his conversion, he wrote religious works included a mass, many motets and other liturgical works. 

Cohen had a sad ending.  He went to Geneva at the start of the Franco-Prussian War in self imposed exile.  He heard a rumor there were a large number of French prisoners of war inside Spandau Prison near Berlin and went there to minister to them.  Many were suffering from smallpox and Cohen apparently comforted them in person and gave last rights in a non-socially distanced way and contracted smallpox himself dying in 1871 at the age of 51.

In 2008, his body was exhumed from it’s resting place in Germany and reinterred in Le Broussey, France where he was first made a Carmelite. He was nominated by the Carmelites for beatification in 2016.

Gustave Comte de Reiset (1821-1905) was a French diplomat and art collector.  Pope Gregory XVI made him a hereditary count for his diplomatic services rendered in Rome in 1842 which was recognized by Emperor Louis-Philippe of France.  After numerous diplomatic positions in Europe, he was made Ambassador to the Kingdom of Hanover in 1863, leaving in 1866 the year of our letter.

An extremely rare an unusual pianist autograph.  Along with being Liszt’s favorite pupil during his Frenh period, Cohen was certainly one of Liszt’s most important pupils during the early part of his career.  Several books and articles have been written about him, though most of the books concentrate on the Catholic aspects of his career.